Yo bro’! This here piece is ’bout love. In the spirit of Jay-Z, Sean Paul, Eminem and Snoop Dogg; who inspired the beat and rhythm of these words; the Dandakam of this prose if you will. Words about love. Yes, indeed.
The thing that makes the world go around; makes clouds part and rain fall; opera music hit the high note and flowers arch to each other. True love, they call it, the fools. Some even die for it, like Juliet and Devdas, Salim and Anarkali. Shah Jahan gazing at his beloved’s grave: A monumental erection for a wife too dead to appreciate it.
Looking glass: Secret notes, arguments, even children, are all facets of love.
Forgive this cynic here but love is a mirage. An oasis that shifts and disappears as the caravan approaches. Something that exists only in the celluloid world; behind the falling curtains of Shakespeare’s plays. True love, you say. Figment of the imagination, I say. A lie that is repeated over and over again. By rock star rappers who want to go platinum; by minions and manikins to sell tickets and entice tourists who are way too giddy to realize that they are being had; by doctors peddling misery and Prozac to sombre souls who wonder why it has passed them by.
What do you think about love, I asked. A few married couples sat in the grass. Citronella candles at twilight. A chaat party in progress. Ragda Patties and red wine. Sated and tired—after swinging the kids on a hammock; after putting away dirty dishes; after chasing babies and changing diapers; after arguing a point in an undertone; turning a cold shoulder; switching on Dumbo on DVD before finally, yes finally, lolling on a blanket. Exhausted. Couples in love; much married anyway. With kids and dogs. A house in the suburbs. Whitefield perhaps. Or gated Palm Meadows.
Love, said the American man, is compatibility. Nothing mystic about this man. He of the wide smile and fairly intelligent wife. Love is compatibility, he says. When fights aren’t vicious and points agreed upon. Then we are doomed, said one couple, for we argue way too much. But arguing is good, someone soothed. It rounds the edges, smoothens a marriage so it becomes a pebble—rolling through water and sand, pain and provocation. Unstoppable. Resilient against the boomerangs and monkey wrenches that life throws. Arguments are good, they said. They strengthen the bond. Create endurance. Better than silent sex. Silences anyway; sometimes louder than words. As for me, I just don’t know.
Love is a bad decision taken in the heat of passion, said the bachelor with more affairs than he can count. Like all bad decisions, it happens in the best of times, he said. Quoting Dickens perhaps. Or our host, my combative friend. Change the lyrics, said the bachelor. The words exchanged during marriage. Yes, those very ones that make liars of most of us. ‘Until death do us part?’ Give me a break. In this day and age? ‘Through thick and thin?’ When divorce is easier than make-up sex? Oh, puhleeze. Get real. Change the words. Marriage isn’t eternal love. It’s just…legalese. Won’t hold together in this fast-forward, party-packed, spouse-swapping, we-be-cool world. Sex in the city. Carla Bruni. Polyandry. Protocol for Sarkozy. As for me, I just don’t know.
Eternal love exists. I’ve seen it. The kind of love where the woman waits for her man by the door. Not one day or two but every evening. Waiting for him to come home from work simply for the pleasure of seeing his smile when he sees her at the door. He leaves love notes when he goes to work. Pasted to the mirror, behind the stove, between her clothes, inside the shower. He imagines her smile when she spots his notes. That to him is enough. Yes, my friend, this type of love exists. The man was my teacher; my sculpture professor. His wife, a potter. He died; she still lives on cigarettes and fresh air.
As for the rest of us, there is the tie that binds. Children perhaps. A sacred pact with sanctity so deep, so pervasive, that you don’t question it. It ain’t easy. No sir, it ain’t. Especially when he insists he is right when in fact he isn’t; when she insists on doing it all and then playing martyr. I get no help from him, she says to her girlfriend when she thinks he isn’t listening. But he is. And he’d help if she let him do it his way. She stares at his shuttered face flicking the remote glued to the match and thinks of the sacrifices she makes. When his aunt calls—the one she can’t stand—and says that she is coming to stay. For two months. When he disrobes and drops his clothes on a neatly made up bed. Yet again. When she is late. Yet again. Almost done, she yells from the bathroom. He likes to be punctual. Oh, what the hell? The concert started half hour ago anyway. I can’t stand her. Oh, God, I can’t stand him. How did we ever get into this?
Something happens. A new moon rises. Clouds part. Rain falls. He hands her an umbrella as she races out the door. She rubs Vicks Vaporub on his throat. He likes it even though he doesn’t believe it works. She comes out of the bathroom in her green sari, sashaying like she owns the world. Their house anyway. He holds open the door. She gives him a sideways smile. Suddenly all is well.
She knows that his eyes dilate when he is mad. Standing in a party. Nobody can guess. But she knows him; she can read his mind. He knows her fears even though she smiles. Nobody can tell. They think her confident, sassy even. But he knows.
Is this love? Or are they merely a habit that each can’t bear to lose? As for me, I just don’t know.
Shoba Narayan knows that her prose runs the risk of appearing pretentious in this piece. But she wrote it anyway. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org